*In Derrick Rose Pre-2010 Season Voice*
"Why can't we weee-un the title this year? The way I look at it, why can't we be the best team in the league this year? We dedicate ourselves to the game and sacrifice a lot of things at a young age, and we know, if we continue to do good, we can weeee-un."
Thanks for that, Derrick. But seriously, if we legitimately thought we could win the title two years ago and last year, why can’t we win this year? Obviously, this is totally contingent upon Mr. Rose receiving an answer to his prayers and coming back quickly to MVP form, which is unlikely yet possible.
But let's break it down. The last two years we had the best record in the league and were certainly at least top 3 candidates to win the title. 2010-2011 was a case of "too much, too soon" for both the team and Derrick, where we had unprecedented and unexpected success, only for it to come crashing down to reality in the ECF. We obviously never would have gotten that far without the MVP, but the reality is Derrick did not have a good series. He shot 35% and LeBron outplayed him. It sucked, but the kid was 22 years old and in the first real high-stakes playoff series of his life. There are countless examples of superstars failing while they are young only to succeed later in the playoffs. MJ and LeBron come to mind. Great players learn. But we went into that series thinking we were going to win, and we had reason to think this as we dominated the Heat during the regular season.
Then last year. Well that sucked. We were an even better team. We once again outplayed the Heat during the regular season. Asik had become a dominant defensive player, and Rip (R.I.P. Mr. Hamilton) actually showed some promise when healthy and paired with our MVP. And then, well you know what happened.
I, as so many of us were, was extremely frustrated with the Bulls this offseason. I understood letting Brewer go, as Jimmy seemed ready to take over that role. The rest of the decisions, well, damn. Whether Mr. Reinsdorf ordered the front office to pinch pennies I do not know for sure, but Gar's assertion that we made "basketball decisions" as opposed to financial decisions is total crap. Sure, Asik would have been hard to match, but letting Korver walk for absolutely nothing (don't worry though, he's only leading the league in 3pt % this year) was hideous.
In spite of all of this, I wish to make the argument that the Bulls CAN win a title this year, while it is of course unlikely (as it the case technically for any team besides the Heat). That is, if things go right, we are capable. And I would make the argument that we are fourth or fifth most likely to win the title as any team if we somehow get everyone healthy. Here's why.
It first starts with Jimmy Butler. Brace yourselves, bold but true statement coming. Outside of Luol, Jimmy Butler is the best wing player we have had in the Derrick Rose era. I definitely don't like to use PER as the end all, be all of basketball statistics and worth. But for Jimmy, it can help prove a point. Jimmy's PER this year is 15.0, equivalent with Luol's, and even higher than Luol's was last year. Jimmy produces, and seems to produce even better when he gets more minutes. But PER doesn't really take into account great defensive positioning and communication. That's why Luol is undervalued in this stat. Well guess what, Jimmy is already a very good defender at only 23 years old. So Jimmy's real value, like Luol's, is above his 15 PER.
Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Rip Hamilton, Keith Bogans, and Marco Bellinelli. None of them have had PER's above 13 with the Bulls. And none of them were as good of defenders as Jimmy Butler is. Being able to play Jimmy 30 minutes a night in the playoffs (which Thibs better do) is a huge upgrade over any of the other wings we have had. Rotations tighten up in the playoffs, as they should, and if Jimmy plays a lot, with a little Bellinelli sprinkled in, we are in better shape on the wings than we have been. Jimmy is a big upgrade, and he is only getting better. And while there is no evidence to prove this, does anyone think Jimmy will get worse playing with Derrick? Remember how many easy layups Ronnie Brewer got from Derrick, just by being a smart cutter off the ball with all the attention our MVP got? Well Jimmy is a great cutter too, but he can actually finish. With authority. Over bostriches.
Kirk Hinrich. He kinda sucks. But seriously, is he really worse than CJ Watson? Overall they put up similar stats, but Kirk is a decent defender (at least against bigger PG's or smaller SG's), and seems to actually run the offense pretty well. And Nate Robinson. He is absolutely an upgrade on CJ or JL3. So, our backup ball handlers are better. We are better on the wings with Jimmy. We miss Korver, but Belli can replicate most of what Korver could do.
So now for the question marks. Everything from here on it falls under the category of "has to go right" and in fact it very well may not. Joakim is having a great year, but because Fred and Thibs conspire against his feet, we may or may not see a full strength Noah this playoffs. But we know he'll play hard and be effective regardless. Boozer seems to have finally carved out a more consistent role, and as long as he can show up and give us 18-9 that's all we need. Taj just has to get healthy, but if he does, our top 3 post players should be no worse this year than they have been. But yes, of course we miss Asik. Nazr has put forth a noble effort lately but Asik was a friggin beast. But, in reality, Asik didn't even play that much. When he came on the floor he was awesome, but the dude played 14 minutes a game. Joakim has had a great season playing close to 40, and if he can get healthy and play that much in the playoffs (which is possible given the extra rest built in to the schedule), we are not losing much.
But we are missing some ingredient. The biggest question mark of all question marks. Mr. Rose. I really really really want to believe that Derrick just wants to get as healthy as possible before stepping on that court, and plans to be back for the playoffs as long as things go well. Really, I have no idea if that's true or not, and neither does anyone else. I think that I disagree with his rehab plan (if he really is cleared to play) of delaying his comeback and not getting in those reps in real game situations the last month or so. But Derrick has built up enough equity with me that I'll still barely give him the benefit of the doubt. I don't think he's crazy or a pussy or any of that. And really no one KNOWS anything for sure besides Derrick. We all THINK, but we don't KNOW. So I think Derrick would have been better off if he really is healthy to have come back already, but whatever. I do know that a healthy D Rose elevates us to championship contender. This whole rant I have gone on means nothing without him, and without Him letting him know through prayer that he is ready, there is no title. And maybe I'm exercising too much faith, but I believe Derrick may come back for the playoffs. If he can somehow regain his form, then a great blessing has come from God, and we have a chance.
My main points:
Our backup PG's are better
Jimmy is the best non Luol wing we've had (by far)
Our bigs can be as good as the last two years (if healthy)
We have a top 5 player in the league coming back (if healthy)
Is it likely we will win the championship? Of course not. Likely means over a 50% chance, which according to Vegas only the Heat are "likely" to win this year. They are listed at 2-3 odds, which is really only slightly above 50%. Randomness and luck come into play. Anyone can be beaten. What were the Mavericks’ chances two years ago of winning a title? If we are at full strength, are we really a less talented team than they were? Sure, it'd be hard to beat the Heat. LeBron is pretty good at basketball. But we could beat them (as displayed just a few weeks ago without our two best players). And if the Heat finally get unlucky like we did last year we would have a good chance. One major injury, and everything changes. We know that more than anyone.
A lot has to go right. It probably won't. But it could. And because of that hope, I'll be paying to be at the first home playoff game.